Ella Littwitz

The Take Off, 2014

Banners, diptych

200x90 cm each

Detail

Negative, 2013

Archival pigment print

80x450 cm

Detail

The last image, 2013

Archival pigment print

130x87 cm

The last image, 2013

Archival pigment print

130x87 cm

Detail

Whistle, 2013

vinyl record, 8:19'

The What there is / What is there? installation is comprised of several works inspired by archaeological digs which started in 2012 in Tempelhofer Freiheit – a park in southern Berlin, formerly the city’s Tempelhof Airport (1923-2008): sounds and voices produced from a broken piece of a vinyl record, an enlarged scan of the only negative found in the digs with emulsion remains on it, posters with an enlarged photo of the imperial eagle statue found in the airport’s archive (BFG: Bestand Archiv Flughafen Tempelhof), and 34 three-dimensional prints of scanned archaeological artefacts.

The Tempelhof Airport was inaugurated in 1923 and was one of the first in the world. Albert Speer1, the Third Reich’s chief architect, redesigned it in 1939 by as part of

the plan to rebuild Berlin as World Capital Germania. As the future hub of all Europe, the terminal of the new and expanded airport renamed Zentralflughafen Tempelhof was known as the largest building of its time, with a style matching is monumental-Fascist character.

A dark chapter in the history of this monument has to do with Camp Columbia, the first concentration camp in Nazi Germany, situated on the airport grounds. During 1933-

1936 the camp was used as a torture training school for future SS officers, and in 1940-1944 the military airfield built in the Tempelhof complex was used as a forced labour camp, where aircraft manufacturer Weserflug and airliner Lufthansa employed tens of thousands of prisoners in building fighter planes. In April 1945, the airport was occupied by the Red Army. Its fighters tried to break into the terminal’s cellars to reach the Wehrmacht’s secret archive, but as a result a fire broke out which completely consumed the archive’s contents. Several months later, the airport was handed over to the US armed forces, which used it for military purposes for several decades, until 1993.

A key to reading the installation before us may be found in the photo of the eagle statue taken in 1962 by the Americans. In this photo, we can see the American soldiers dismantling the controversial statue which towered above the Tempelhof Airport between 1940-1962. The eagle, used as a mythological symbol of power and victory in Europe since the days of the Holy Roman Empire, was adopted by Hitler and the Third Reich. In the Nazi statue, the eagle holds a laurel wreath and a swastika in its claws and its head is turned left. When the Americans took over the airport, they redesigned the statue by painting the eagle’s head white and covering the swastika with a symbol of the USA, thereby turning it into their very own American Bald Eagle. In 1962, the statue’s head was separated from its body and sent to the US, while the body was scrapped. In 1985, the head was returned to Berlin as a gesture for Germany,

and today it has been reinstated in front of the Tempelhof main terminal building. In Littwitz’s work we can see the original version of the leftward- headed statue as in the Nazi period in the right poster, while in the left the reverse image is shown: the eagle looks to the right, and in that the artist has returned it to its original shape and reinstated it as a symbol of pre- and post-Nazi Germany.

Artist Ella Littwitz joined a team of archaeologists and researchers headed by Susan Pollock and Reinhard Bernbeck in the Tempelhof’s forced labour camp area. Their forensic- archaeological study was designed to raise the awareness of Nazi acts of terrorism and oppression in the airport area by revealing the aspects of the camp prisoners’ daily lives, “from eating to personal hygiene to connections (if any) to families and communities back home”. The digs revealed objects from several periods: from before the original airport’s construction, when it was used as a graveyard in World War I, from the military airfield period, the labour camp period, and the American era. Anthropologist Maria T. Strazmann argued that the vary absence of archaeological finds from certain periods constitutes a testimony: “... archaeology, by investigating what remains after the Holocaust, may allow us to manifest absence, loss and historical silence”. The artist has selected several disinterred objects, scanned and printed them in three dimensions. Her emphasis was on personal and cultural artefacts from the various periods.

The gap between the statement “What there is“ and the question “What is there?“ in the project’s title indicates the difference between the existence of an object and what it represents. The technique used by the artist also evokes the gap between original and copy, source and translation, since the 3D scanning technology manages to reproduce the “real” objects almost perfectly, but the uniformity of the material serves

to flatten the hierarchy between the objects; for example, a human bone and disposable cutlery tend to look quite similar. The dug up artefacts seem banal and their reproduction using this cutting-edge technology blurs the place’s gruesome past even further.

To return to the airport’s history, Littwitz uses a collection of symbols that are iconic both in substance and in representation. This applies to the Weimarian eagle decorating what seem at first as military banners, to the object shelves which echo archaeological practices and embodies the artist’s search for “truth”, a process which apparently recovers the archives erased in the past and enlivens their story; it also applies to the last image blown up and framed, and to the surviving sounds re- recorded on vinyl. In her installation What there is / What is there? Littwitz seems to freeze testimonies and expose, through their powerful and deteriorated condition, the terrible past of an idyllic, bustling Berlin park.

 

1 In 1934, Albert Speer was appointed by Hitler as First Architect of the Third Reich. In charge of the planning and rebuilding of Berlin as a world-class metropolitan center called World Capital Germania, Speer was responsible for the evacuation of thousands of German citizens, many of them Jews, from their

homes in 1938-1941. The Jews were sent to the camps, and their empty apartments were used to house non-Jewish Germans evicted from their apartments in areas designated for demolition and renewal.

2 During the Weimar Republic, as in earlier eras in Germany, the eagle was used as a state symbol, but it looked slightly different than the Nazi eagle, and its head was turned right. Today’s German coat of arms includes an eagle reminiscent of its Weimarian predecessor.

3 Maria Theresia Starzmann (2014), Excavating Tempelhof airfield: Objects of memory and the politics of absence, Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice, 18(2).

4 Ibid.

 

Ghila Limon and Tal Bechler, Herzliya Museum

with a special thanks to Prof. Dr. Reinhard Bernbeck and BFG-Bestand Archiv Flughafen Tempelhof, Berlin